Berry Berry Good: Strawberry Desserts Monday, May 5 2014 

Strawberry Semifreddo on https://virginiawillis.wordpress.com

Strawberries are the most popular berry fruit in the world, and while they are available in grocery stores every week of the year, spring is their true season. (Technically, strawberries aren’t actually a fruit or a berry; they are instead the “enlarged receptacle of the strawberry flower.”) Regardless of the correct botanical terminology, strawberries are a most welcome salute to spring! Their bright red bursts of color and flavor are refreshing after the winter months of apples, pears, and citrus. Although you can get seasonal strawberries grown in Florida and California, there’s nothing better than picking your own fully ripe berries or picking up farm fresh berries at your local farmer’s market.

Choose strawberries that have a good aroma and sweet fragrance. When ripe, the color of strawberry varieties can vary from a more medium red to deep red, so color is not always the best indicator. However, since they do not ripen after being picked, only choose strawberries that are fully red without any creamy white or pale green, with fresh-looking caps and perky green leaves. Health-wise, strawberries are fantastic with a good amount of fiber and more vitamin C than any other berry.

Topped with a spoonful of plain yogurt, they are a sweet-tart, wonderful, and delicious way to start your day. I’m not a fan of cooked strawberries (except in jam) so I prefer them as bright and clean bursts of flavor in salads or tossed in vinegar as a fruity salsa.

However, we all have destiny, I believe. And, to me there’s no doubt that strawberries shine their brightest in dessert. This Strawberry Semi-freddo was created by my dear friend and colleague Tamie Cook. It’s a creamy, indulgent, and awesome spring fling.

Strawberries and cream are classic decadence. For some Down-Home Comfort, please also take a look at FoodNetwork.com for my golden brown and incredibly tender Brown Sugar Strawberry Shortcakes. Absolutely nothing beats the taste of real whipped cream so just leave the non-dairy topping in the fridge for both desserts.  You know, yogurt is virtuous and yes, even delicious, but fresh strawberries and cream are simply divine.

Brown Sugar Strawberry Shortcake on Down-Home Comfort

When I was 18 I spent the summer in London. That summer I thought I was especially grown up, living abroad and galavanting all over London. I had heard about the beauty of Kew, the Royal Botanic Gardens, and planned a visit. It was a few train rides away and off the normal metro line, but I managed to find my way there — all by myself. (I only want to add London England is a long, long ways from the red dirt roads of South Georgia.) Just before entering the majestic splendor, I popped into a grocer and purchased a pint of strawberries and a small glass bottle of clotted cream. It was a Anglophile’s dream date and I wanted a special private picnic for my solo garden tour. I was grinning like a Cheshire cat at the combination of my sophisticated sojourn and the very British bites I had in store. Yet, after the shop, I found myself at the gate without enough money to enter the gardens. I was scared I wouldn’t have enough money to get back home. So, I sat down on the bench by the gate and gazed through at the amazing beauty within the ornate iron gates. I remember thinking to myself what a silly little girl I had been, but I loved every mouthful of strawberries and cream none-the-less.

When whipping cream it is very important the cream be well chilled as well as the bowl and the beaters. (Cream simply will not whip if it is warm.) For best results, make sure to use cream that has either a 36 to 40 percent milk-fat content (heavy cream) or 30 to 36 percent (light whipping cream). Lastly, don’t over-whip the cream – it turns to butter. On that note, you won’t find either dessert in my next cookbook, Lighten Up, Y’all (spring 2015), but this book is all about saying YES! not saying no. You can have enjoy indulgent desserts – just not every day, not without moderation, and not without putting in an extra bit of exercise. So, enjoy!

Along with strawberries, spring has brought about a bit of spring cleaning. Please check out my new website, www.virginiawillis.com. I’m thrilled with the design and technology. It’s responsive to smart phone, tablet, or computer screen. Pretty cool stuff and great job by IdeaLand and Pixie Wizard Graphixs. I am so thankful to work with such a great team. Stay posted for big changes on my blog, too. Lots of new comings and goings on the horizon. Thanks so much for reading!

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia Willis

Strawberry Semifreddo on www.virginiawillis.com

Simple Strawberry Semifreddo 

Makes 8 3-ounce

2 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup strawberry puree
1 cup heavy whipping cream, chilled
Fresh strawberries, for serving

Place a large saucepan with 2-inches of water over high heat. Bring the water to a boil then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Whisk the eggs, sugar and salt together in a medium mixing bowl. Set the bowl atop the simmering saucepan, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water.Whisk constantly, over the heat, until the mixture reaches 170° degrees F and has thickened slightly, about 5 minutes.

Remove the bowl from the heat, add the strawberry puree and whisk until combined. If necessary, refrigerate until cooled to room temperature. Whip the cream in a large mixing bowl until medium peaks form.Fold whipped cream into strawberry mixture until well combined. Transfer to molds and freeze until firm, at least 6 hours. Unmold and serve with fresh strawberries.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Want to keep up with my culinary wanderings and wonderings? Lets connect on  Facebook , Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Copyright © 2014 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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Best Winter Squash Recipes: Cozy Comfort Wednesday, Jan 22 2014 

 

Winter Weather 

pan seared winter squash on www.virginiawillis.com

Wintery mix and snowy weather call for cozy, comforting foods. One of my absolute favorite recipes when I was a little girl was Roast Acorn Squash. Mama would halve the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. She’d fill the scooped out center with a thick pat of butter, amber maple syrup, and chopped pecans and roast the halves until perfectly tender. The buttery syrup would seep into the squash and create a  magical mash, closer to dessert than a healthful vegetable.

Winter Squash Glossary on www.virginiawillis.com

Clockwise, starting at bottom left: Delicata, Acorn, Kabocha, and Butternut Squash

I’m still a huge fan of winter squash, although my recipes are now a bit less decadent. Winter squash are earthy, creamy, and rich – the definition of cozy comfort. Many varieties are available year-round, but their natural season runs from late summer to mid-winter. Many people gravitate towards acorn squash because they are familiar with it, but there are many other flavors and textures. Sure, they are all quite similar, but just different enough that I want you to give them a try. In fact, except for spaghetti squash, virtually any winter squash, including pumpkin, can be substituted for another in any recipe, from main dish to side dish to dessert. Here are a few of my favorites.

Delicata – Sweet and thin-skinned, this winter squash is quick cooking and very useful. The cream colored skin has dark green stripes in the ribs. My favorite way to cook this is to thinly slice it and roast it, seeds and all, to make delicata chips.

delicata squash on www.virginiawillis.com

Acorn – Sweet and nutty, the most common acorn squash are dark green in color, sometimes tinged with a bit of orange or yellow. The flesh is pale yellow and somewhat fibrous. As the name suggests, it is shaped much like an acorn. It has distinct ridges and a fairly tough skin, making it difficult to peel.

acorn squash on www.virginiawillis.com

Butternut – This is one of the easiest of all the winter squashes to work with because its smooth skin just pares away with a paring knife or vegetable peeler. Also, they keep well even once they have been cut upon – meaning, I shop for a large one, use what I need, and wrap the rest. It will easily last a week or so and can be carved on and be part of more than one meal. The long slender neck of the squash is perfect for cubing and I roast the bulbous end, skin and all, as in the recipe below.

Kabocha – Kabocha is the generic Japanese word for squash. It has a green, bluish-gray streaked rind and the flesh is deep yellow. Kabocha squash has a rich sweet flavor, and can be a bit dry when cooked. The outer skin is pretty tough so follow my instructions for handling rutabagas to cut these hard-skinned squash.

kabocha squash on www.virginiawillis.com

This week, I am sharing a vibrant, beautiful, and tasty recipe for Pan-Seared Winter Squash with Maple Syrup and Pecans. Check these recipes out, too:

Speaking of comforting foods for winter weather, I am having a great time with my column on FoodNetwork.com called Down-Home Comfort. (You can follow  the Down-Home Comfort feed on FN Dish with this link.) Stay tuned later this week for my Fried Chicken with Rice and Black Pepper Gravy!

Believe it or not, I am currently working on my next batch of posts that will run this summer. Please help me out and answer this poll:

Bon Appétit Y’all!
VA

Pan Seared Winter Squash - www.virginiawillis.com

Pan-Seared Winter Squash 
Serves 4

2 tablespoons canola oil, more if needed
1 acorn squash, cut into eighths
4-6 1/4-inch thick slices of butternut squash
1 small red onion, stem end trimmed and root attached, cut lengthwise into eighths
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
2 thyme sprigs, preferably fresh
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1-2 tablespoons chopped pecans
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 350°F. Brush a large skillet with oil and heat over medium heat. Add squash wedges without crowding and cook on both sides until mottled and browned, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. (You will need to sear the squash in batches.) Repeat with remaining oil, squash, and onion. Return all squash and onion to the skillet and season with salt and pepper. Tuck the herbs about the skillet and transfer to the oven. Bake until tender to the point of a knife, about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and drizzle over the maple syrup and sprinkle over the pecans. Return to the oven to warm the syrup and lightly toast the pecans, about 5 minutes. Remove the herbs and serve immediately.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Keep up with me on Facebook , Twitter, and Pinterest.

All Photos by Virginia Willis. Copyright © 2014 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

Paris Cookbook Fair: Pulled Pork with BBQ Sauce Saturday, Feb 23 2013 

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Paris Cookbook Fair 2013

Bonjour! Sending out a quick post from the Paris Cookbook Fair, Festival du Livre Culinaire from Le Carosel du Louvre. There are so many amazing, beautiful books from all over the world – France, the UK, South America, Israel, New Zealand — all over! I was thrilled to be asked to do a cooking demonstration. Of course, I knew I wanted to share my style of cooking, a blend of French and Southern — but with an extra special nod towards my Southern roots. So, I put it out on Twitter to ask folks what I should make…..

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Fried Chicken at the Louvre?

You will laugh at the reply from the Twitterverse!

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So, I didn’t. The last thing I want is an international incident over Fried Chicken. Although I am convinced that if the Mona Lisa could taste my fried chicken she’d have a full blown grin instead of her quirky little smile.

Southern Living saw the conversation and decided they had to write about it on their Daily South blog — “No, Virginia, You Can’t Fry in the Louvre.” Funny, right!?

Instead, I chose to make Pulled Pork Tenderloin with Georgia BBQ Sauce paired with Heirloom Stoneground Grits and Greens topped with Cole Slaw in a Mustard Vinaigrette. I actually brought My Southern Pantry® grits from home. I’m delighted to say that everyone loved it. It was a real blast.

I’m off to go see some beautiful food photography from the award-winning, international photographer Nancy Bundt. She’s absolutely phenomenal. I love her work. Later tonight, two people very important to me, Lisa Ekus and Anne Willan are receiving Gourmand Awards. More soon!

Bon Appétit Y’all!

VA

 

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Pulled Pork Tenderloin with Georgia Barbecue Sauce
Serves 4 to 6

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 small very finely chopped onion
2 1/2 cups ketchup
2 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cupDijon mustard
2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
Juice of 2 lemons (about 1/4 cup)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 (1-pound) pork tenderloin
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and simmer until soft and melted, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, brown sugar, lemon juice, and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook until flavors have smoothed and mellowed, about 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with heavy-duty aluminum foil.

Meanwhile, to prepare the pork, trim off the fat and silver skin: insert the tip of a sharp boning knife just under the silver skin about 1/2 inch from the edge of the meat where the silver skin begins. Keep the knife closer to the membrane than the meat, and pulling up slightly with the knife, slide the knife along the length of the meat to remove a strip of the membrane. Repeat until no silver skin remains. Season the pork with salt and pepper.

To sear the pork, in a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Sear the tenderloin until well browned on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes.

Remove from the heat and place lengthwise on the prepared baking sheet. Top with about 1 cup of the barbecue sauce and roll to fully coat. Fold the foil over the top of the meat and pinch the ends of the foil to seal well. Bake until very tender, 30 to 45 minutes.

Remove from the oven and transfer the pork to a large bowl. Discard the cooking juices remaining in the foil. Using 2 forks, shred the pork tenderloin into strips. Add barbecue sauce to taste, about 1 cup. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve on the split buns with the remaining 1/4 cup of sauce on the side.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Copyright © 2013 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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Clean Eating: Turkey Meatloaf & Mashed Potatoes!? Wednesday, Jan 16 2013 

Plan for Success

We all know how the holidays can be nearly impossible to eat light and healthy. Seriously, it’s so difficult when faced with tins upon tins of cookies, a profusion of rich, roast meats, and cheese-laden party buffets. It’s hard. I’ve wavered a bit with my points tracking and then I caught an awful cold and quit exercising. That my friends, spells disaster with a capital D.

To have even a remote chance of success, you have to set yourself up for it. If you create an environment that makes healthy eating and exercise too challenging, you are messing with flat-out failure. You need a plan. My friend and colleague Michelle Dudash has just published  Clean Eating for Busy Families: Get Meals on the Table in Minutes with Simple and Satisfying Whole-Foods Recipes You and Your Kids Will LoveClean Eating for Busy Families takes the challenge out of putting delicious food on the table by providing you with a plan for success. Oh, how I love a plan!

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It can be such a struggle get dinner on the table night after night. Parents want to prepare healthy and meals for their family, but busy schedules, tempting drive-throughs, and expensive ready-to-go foods get in the way. In Clean Eating for Busy Families, Michelle offers weekly grocery lists, awesome recipes, and practical tips for healthy eating. Most of the recipes can be prepared in 30 minutes or less and are created from healthy, whole foods. Kids or no kids, these recipes are good and good for you. I think you will love this book.

The praise has been stellar!

This refreshing cookbook truly reflects our time by delivering what we all crave: decidedly delectable meals that boast fresh, natural ingredients, robust flavors, exciting textures, and vibrant colors.”
-Robin Miller, nutritionist and host of Food Network’s Quick Fix Meals with Robin Miller

“Clean Eating for Busy Families is a valuable resource for busy parents who yearn to serve their families great tasting, nutritious meals in the time they have available.”
-Cheryl Forberg, R.D., James Beard award-winning chef and the original nutritionist for NBC’S The Biggest Loser

Thanks to Michelle’s generosity, I am giving away a copy of  her awesome book! It’s a random drawing for US only, please. 

  1. To do so, please leave your email address in a comment at the bottom of this post.
  2. For good contest karma, follow Michelle on Twitter
  3. Love my giveaways? Please Like me on Facebook to keep up with upcoming giveaways! I’ve got some great cookbooks coming your way!

Team Hidi

I want to share something else on a more serious note. This post is about clean eating and being healthy. Yet, sadly, sometimes life doesn’t cooperate. My friend and colleague chef Ryan Hidinger was diagnosed with Stage IV gallbladder cancer that has spread to his liver and lungs. The Atlanta food community is joining together and trying to help Ryan with donations like “Round Up for Ryan”, where you can round up your check at participating Atlanta restaurants. There’s also an amazing fundraiser and live auction on January 27. There are events happening all over the country for this brave man. Please check it out TeamHidi.org to read more about Ryan’s courageous story and to see how you can help. Thank you for your consideration.

I hope you enjoy Michelle’s Turkey Meatloaf and my recipe for Lightened Up Mashed Potatoes. Add green beans or stir-fried greens for a well-rounded and most excellent meal. You’ll see that simple, minor adaptations can result in big changes. If so-called “Diet Food” is meatloaf and mashed potatoes, that’s plan for success!

Bon Appétit Y’all!
VA

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Michelle’s Turkey, Vegetable & Oat Mini-Meatloaves with Marinara Sauce

I love that meatloaf can be mixed ahead of time and popped into the oven right before dinner, and making smaller loaves cuts cooking time by half. If you want to make the mixture ahead of time and refrigerate, just be sure to let it temper for 20 minutes on the counter before putting it in the oven to ensure more even cooking.

Expeller-pressed canola oil spray
1 (8-ounce, or 225 g) package crimini (baby bella) mushrooms (about2½ cups)
1 small yellow onion, cut into eighths (1 cup, or 160 g)
4 cloves garlic (or 2 teaspoons [6 g] minced)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup (80 g) dry rolled oats
2 large eggs
1 pound (455 g) lean ground turkey (or beef or bison)
1¾ cups (438 g) pasta sauce, divided
3 tablespoons (45 ml) red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon (6 g) Italian herb seasoning
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375°F (190°˚C, or gas mark 5). Coat a 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33 cm) baking pan or six mini loaf pans with spray. Pulse mushrooms in a food processor until finely chopped and add them to a large bowl. Repeat with onion and garlic.

Place a large frying pan over medium heat and add oil. When oil is shimmering, add vegetables and sauté for 7 minutes or until water releases and evaporates completely, lowering the heat as necessary. Set aside.

Process the oats until they are of a fine consistency. Whisk the eggs in the bowl used for the vegetables. Add processed oats, turkey, ¾ cup (188 g) of pasta sauce, cooked vegetables, vinegar, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper and stir together with a fork until blended.

Scoop the mixture into 6 mounds on the pan or into each mini-loaf pan, about ¾ cup (187 g) each. Shape each mound into a 4 x 2-inch (10 x 5 cm) loaf. Spread remaining 1 cup (250 g) of pasta sauce on top of the loaves, distributing evenly. Bake on middle rack for 25 minutes, turning pan midway through cooking, until loaves are firm or a thermometer inserted in the middle reads at least 165°F (74°C). Allow loaves to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Total Prep and Cook Time: 55 minutes • Yield: 6 servings, 1 loaf each. Per serving: 330 calories; 12 g total fat; 3 g saturated fat; 23 g protein; 32 g carbohydrate; 5 g dietary fiber; 115 mg cholesterol.

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Virginia’s Lightened Up Yukon Gold Mash
Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, cubed
1/2 cup homemade chicken stock or reduced fat low sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, place the potatoes and cover with cold water. Season with salt, bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to low. Gently simmer until fork tender, about 20 minutes.

Drain the potatoes in a colander and return them to the saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until a floury film forms on the bottom of the pan, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Mash the potatoes in the saucepan until smooth with a ricer, food mill, or potato masher. Stir in the stock and sour cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

potato photo credit Claire Perez 

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Copyright © 2013 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

Mix it Up: Beef Brisket Tacos with Chipotle Dressing Wednesday, Jan 9 2013 

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Winter Wonderland

“Wait, where are you?”, the person on the other end of the line asks in complete disbelief.

Many conversations have gone along these lines this month. Yes, it may seem crazy to some, but I decided to come to New England for January. The winter wonderland is absolutely exquisite. Most snowbirds are heading to the sunny South and I decided to go North. What? Well, I have the flexibility and desire. And, of course, you know, sometimes you just have to mix it up.

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I’m guilty of flying on auto-pilot in the kitchen sometimes. I don’t stretch with techniques or out of my normal palate of flavors. Sometimes, just like you, I just want to get dinner on the table. And, after a long day of exacting, precise recipe testing, the last thing I want to do is follow a ding-dang recipe. So, you know, sometimes you just have to mix it up.

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I’ve had a stack of books to check out from Ten Speed Press, my publishing house.  I’m proud to be one of their authors. Robb Walsh is a fellow Ten Speed Press author and I am a sincere admirer of his work. Robb is an award winning author and journalist. He’s the real deal and his take on Texas is just the right thing to mix up your cold January.

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Robb’s latest book is  Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbook. He covers the classic Texas favorites like chicken-fried steak, cheese enchiladas, barbecued brisket, and King Ranch casserole.  He also delves into other Texan fusion cuisines, and there are more than a non-native might expect. There’s more to Texas than Tex-Mex, my friend. He shakes things up with Texas-versions of soul food, German-influenced recipes, and Vietnamese crossovers. With more than 200 recipes and captivating photography, Texas Eats brings Texas food and culinary history vibrantly to life.  It’s a beautiful, wonderful book.

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Food Blog South

Education is a great way to shake things up.  Later this month I will be learning and sharing at Food Blog South in Birmingham. It’s a fantastic conference that has grown into a super event in just a few short years. On 25 January, the day before the conference actually starts, Lisa Ekus and I are teaching Honing Your Edge: Media Skills and Branding for Bloggers and Culinary Professionals.  The seminar will be held at Rosewood Ballroom, the site of the conference. The seminar is in a classroom setting and is limited to 50 people. There are still spaces available.  This is a great opportunity to learn and grow. Let me know if you need more information.

Lastly, on 28 January members of the Atlanta chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier are hosting a Simple Abundance cooking class at The Cook’s Warehouse to benefit the Atlanta Community Food Bank. It’s going to be a great night and seats are limited. Sign up today!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

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Robb’s Beef Brisket Tacos with Chipotle Dressing

Serves 10

4 pounds trimmed beef brisket
1 large white onion, chopped
4 bay leaves
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon salt
10 peppercorns
2 serrano chiles, coarsely chopped
8 cups water
4 cups beef broth

Chipotle Dressing
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 (7-ounce) can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
Lettuce leaves, for serving
Chopped tomatoes, radish slices, cucumber slices, and chopped red onions, for garnish
20 Crispy Taco Shells

In a Dutch oven, combine the beef, onion, bay leaves, 
garlic, salt, peppercorns, and serranos. Pour in the water and broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 3 hours, until the meat is falling-apart tender. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the brisket will register 190°F. Alternatively, bring to a boil as directed, then cover and cook in a preheated 350°F over for 3 hours. Or, combine all of the ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on the low setting for 6 to 8 hours.

Transfer the brisket to a cutting board and let cool. Meanwhile, strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve and set aside. When the brisket is cool, trim and scrape away any fat and gristle. With your fingers or 2 forks, tease the meat into shreds. Cut the shreds into 1-inch-long threads and place in a bowl. Moisten the meat with ½ cup of the broth. Save the remaining broth for another purpose.

To make the dressing, in a blender, combine the oil, lime juice, vinegar, and garlic and sprinkle in a little salt and pepper. Drain the chipotles, pouring all of the adobo sauce into the blender. Then add the chipotles to taste: there are about 10 chipotles in a can. For a little heat, add just 1 chipotle; for a medium-hot dressing, add 2 or 3 chipotles; and for a spicy dressing, add 4 or more chipotles. Turn on the blender and process until you have a smooth dressing. Add the dressing to the shredded beef. The mixture should be moist but not soupy. Chop the rest of the chipotles and put them on the table as a condiment.

Salpicón is a mixture of chopped fish, meat, or vegetables in a sauce, used as fillings for tacos, croquettes, and pastries. It is customarily chilled, then served at room temperature. To chill, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to several days. When you remove it from the refrigerator, the top will be dry and the dressing will have collected on the bottom of the bowl. Just before serving, dump the mixture into another bowl and retoss it.To serve, arrange a bed of lettuce leaves on a deep platter, and spoon the salpicón onto the lettuce. Garnish with the tomatoes, radish slices, and cucumber slices and top with a sprinkling of onion. Serve with the taco shells.

“Reprinted with permission from Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbook, with More than 200 Recipes by Robb Walsh, copyright © 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.”

Beef Photo credit: Laurie Smith © 2012

Winter Wonderland photos by Virginia Willis

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Copyright © 2013 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

Lady Luck: Black Eyed Peas and Greens Tuesday, Jan 1 2013 

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Eating black eyed peas and greens on New Year’s Day is a special Southern tradition, and folklore says it brings luck and money in the upcoming year. However, eating greens actually isn’t a rarity for me. We eat greens 3 or more nights a week. I buy bunches at the farmer’s market, but I will admit to taking a shortcut with the pre-washed and pre-chopped bags of greens, too. They are just so easy and so good! It’s simple to simmer a couple of handfuls with an onion and a little vegetable or canola oil, just until they are tender. Meme used to cook them for hours and hours with salt pork or fatback. The salty, delicious greens would be so soft and tender they would practically slide down my throat. I like them prepared the old-fashioned way, but I also like them a bit more toothsome.

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In the spirit of clean-eating and starting out the new year with a new you, I  am  sharing a recipe for a Black Eyed Pea Paella from my friend and colleague Kim O’Donnel. Kim is such an inspiring person, writer, and friend. Her most recent book is The Meat Lover’s Meatless Celebration: Year-Round Vegetarian Feasts (You Can Really Sink Your Teeth Into). Her recipes are flat out delicious and, they just happen to be meatless. They are built on sound technique and good flavor. This book is a beautiful follow-up to her first book The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes Carnivores Will Devour. Her recipes are about good food, first. She’s a meat eater — she eats meat, just not as much as she used to.

Kim is very involved in the global movement Meatless Mondays. Meatless Monday is a non-profit initiative in association with the Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health. The Meatless Monday premise is that going meatless once a week may reduce your risk of chronic preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. It can also help reduce your carbon footprint and save precious resources like fresh water and fossil fuel. One pound of commodity ground beef – meaning not grass fed or all natural – takes 2000 gallons of water to produce. That’s astonishing. Thoughtful and mindful eating is a good way to make a small change in our health and our lives. The tiny step of going meat-free one day a week can make an impact on your own health, and the health of the global community.

Often at this time of year people make resolutions. I find those grand proclamations can be perfect set ups for massive failure. Instead, I prefer the Japanese concept of kaizen. Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement of working practices and personal efficiency. Lordy Mercy, I know I am flawed and I have plenty to work on. If I think of all the things I should work on in my life, it’s far too overwhelmingBut, if I think about improving my life a little bit at a time, it’s manageable. Kaizen.

Here are a few tips for cooking black eyed peas and greens from a recent interview with  the Charlotte Observer. I also have an article in this month’s Fine Cooking on Hoppin John. Meaty or meatless, you’ve got the recipes for a lucky start to the New Year. Many wishes for a safe, prosperous, and healthy 2013.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

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VA’s Lucky Greens
Serves 4 to 6

Kale, collards, turnip greens, and mustard greens are dark leafy winter greens that are nutritional powerhouses and familiar friends on the Southern table. Look for brightly colored greens free of brown spots, yellowing edges, or limp leaves. The best way to clean greens is to first remove the tough stalks and stems. Fill a clean sink with cold water. Place the greens in water and swish around, allowing the grit to fall to the bottom the sink. Lift greens out of the sink and transfer to a large bowl and rinse the sink. Repeat the process at least three times or more as needed until no grit remains.

2 pounds assorted greens, such as collard, kale, mustard, or turnip
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 sweet onions, chopped
2 cups water
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Hot sauce, for serving

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the onions and cook until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil, gradually stir in the greens, allowing each batch to wilt before adding more; season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Cook, until greens are just tender, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

Black eyed pea paella

KIM’S BLACK-EYED PEA PAELLA
Serves 6 

Kim says, “I learned how to make paella many years ago from one of Spain’s great culinary ambassadors, chef José Andrés. Using the technique Andrés taught me, I have created a meatless version with
black-eyed peas, a new twist on New Year’s hoppin’ John.”

The amounts below are for six hearty servings. Ideally, you’ll
want to use a 15-inch paella pan to ensure the most even cooking
results, but don’t worry if that’s not an option. Use a wide and
shallow skillet (lid not necessary) as close to 15 inches in diameter
as you can get. For a half-batch, use a pan about 10 inches wide.

Saffron, which is a spice derived from a variety of crocus, is a
traditional seasoning in paella, for both flavor and color. For this
dual tribute to the Catalan and the American South, the saffron
is not as integral to the final dish as is the pimentón (smoked paprika),which adds layers of flavor to the beans. You can do this
dish without the saffron, but in my humble opinion, you can’t do it
without the pimentón.

4 cups vegetable stock
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced onion (more than 1⁄2 medium-size onion)
1 cup seeded and diced bell pepper of your favorite color (about 1 medium-size pepper)
1 (16-ounce) bag frozen black-eyed peas, or 1 cup dried black-eyed peas, cooked*
1 1⁄2 teaspoons smoked paprika (also known as pimentón)
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 1⁄4 cups tomato puree
1⁄2 teaspoon crumbled saffron (optional)
1/2 cup white wine you enjoy drinking
1⁄2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
2 cups uncooked short-grain white rice (1 pound)
Optional garnishes: Pickled peppers, chopped fresh parsley, lemon zest

*To cook dried black-eyed peas: Soak the peas for at least 2 hours in enough water to cover by at least 2 inches. Drain the peas, then place in a large pot with 4 cups of water. Bring to a lively simmer over medium-high heat.Cook at a hard boil for 5 minutes, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer until the beans are tender to the bite. This should take about 1 hour.

HERE’S WHAT YOU DO: In a medium-size saucepan, warm the vegetable stock until heated through and keep covered, on low, until ready to use.

Over medium-high heat, heat a 15-inch paella pan until it’s too hot to place your hand about 3 inches above the pan. Add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, tilting the pan so that the oil coats the entire bottom surface. Lower the heat to medium, add the onion, and cook until slightly softened, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from burning or sticking.

Add the bell pepper, stir well, and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Add the black-eyed peas and smoked paprika, stirring until the vegetables are evenly coated with the spice, about 90 seconds.Transfer the black-eyed pea mixture to a bowl and set aside.

Wipe the pan clean with a dry paper towel to remove any burnt, stuck-on bits. Add the remaining olive oil plus the garlic and cook over medium heat until, as chef Andrés says, “they dance.” (When
heated, the garlic moves around the pan in the bubbling oil.)

Add the tomato puree and stir often, over the next 5 minutes, until the color has transformed from red to a more golden, orange-brown shade. Add the saffron, if using. Then add the white wine and increase the heat to medium-high, stirring to keep from burning.

Return the black-eyed pea mixture to the pan. Add the stock. Bring to a boil, taste for salt, then season accordingly. You want the mixture to be slightly salty. This is also your last chance to add salt before
the rice is added.

Add the rice and set a timer for 16 minutes. For the first 6 minutes, gently stir the paella, to minimize burning and sticking. For the remaining cooking time, please heed the advice I learned from chef

Andrés: no more stirring or touching. Otherwise, you
will have a gummy rice concoction. This is also why you cannot add salt at this stage.

At minute 16, taste a grain of rice for doneness. It should be slightly al dente, like risotto. Turn off the heat and allow the paella to sit for at least 5 minutes. The results should be dry, not soupy. Serve hot in bowls.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Copyright © 2012 Virginia Willis Culinary Productions, LLC.

Not What You Expected: Southern Foodways Alliance Monday, Oct 15 2012 

Southern Foodways

In keeping with our fall tradition, I’m heading over to the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium this week. SFA is a great group and if you are a Southerner by birth or by frame of mind, you should be a member of this great group. I jokingly call it the Bourbon and Bacon Festival as there is not lack of either. Seriously, one year there were strips of Allen Benton’s bacon hanging from trees lining the entryway as hors d’ouevres. All that aside – it’s not just about the food. It’s more than what you might expect. Sure, there’s great food, but it’s also about fellowship and education. The Southern Foodways Alliance feeds my head, my heart, and my stomach.

The mission statement reads.”The Southern Foodways Alliance documents, studies, and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. We set a common table where black and white, rich and poor — all who gather — may consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation.

I strongly believe in these values as a Southerner. And, as a cook, in my opinion, everything about the whole entire world can be summarized by the food that goes into our mouths – politics, race, finance, agriculture, art, religion, education, and geography. Everything. It’s more than you might expect.

Last week I taught in Ohio and Indiana. All of the classes were sold out. Some people might not expect that, but Southern food is very popular across the country. Yet, as I travel, I often find myself explaining what Southern food actually is. People think all Southern food is unhealthy. People think all Southern food is fried. I didn’t grow up eating Bacon-Wrapped-Breaded-Deep-Fried-Macaroni and Cheese or Cheeseburgers served on Krispy Kreme or Red Velvet Pancakes with Cream Cheese Syrup.

Yes, I did grow up eating Fried Chicken. But, Southern food is more than fried chicken. Frankly, to define Southern food as fried chicken is one-dimensional. That’s like saying Japanese food is solely sushi, Italian food is no more than spaghetti and meatballs, and all French food is bathed in a buttery rich cream sauce. Assumptions are dangerous, often wrong, and the truth is more than you’d expect.

Real Southern Food

NY Times Atlanta Bureau Chief Kim Severson recently interviewed Paula Deen on Times Talk. I am asked about Paula almost as much as I am asked about working for Martha Stewart. Paula has been nice to me – I’ve been featured in her magazine and she’s had me on as a guest on her TV show. When she announced her diabetes to the world I did share with the NY Times that French chefs weren’t vilified for their use of butter. However, I also said I don’t think what Paula Deen shares with the world on Food Network defines Southern food — and I’d say that to her if she were sitting down right beside me. In fact, she very well might agree with me. She’s your cook, not your doctor, as she famously pointed out. I might only add that she’s entertainment.

I’ve lived and traveled all over the world. The South does not have a monopoly on rednecks or racism, but people assume that most Southerners are racist. I do think that the South somehow lives with this menace better, but then, I am not black and I do not face the prejudice an African American faces in our society. I only say that racism is part of our daily lives in the South. That’s part of our dialogue in SFA. Racism does exist and there are people that do judge people by the color of their skin, and there are people that do not. Geography has nothing to do with it and that’s not what most people think.

SFA is filled with like-minded Southerners that celebrate the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. We set a common table where black and white, rich and poor — all who gather — may consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation.

Frankly, SFA gives me hope. I appreciate the work done spreading the message of the rich, diverse cultural heritage of the South. The South of the SFA is perhaps not what most people expect, but it is just as real as what is assumed to be true. This is the South that I want the world to see, to believe in, and to understand. 

And then, ungloriously heaped on  the pile of rubbish that is American television is Honey Boo Boo, a reality series about a small-town Southern family airing on a network comically called The Learning Channel.

Maybe I’ll have a slug of bourbon and a couple of slices of bacon, after all.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

VA

PS: In the spirit of “not what you expected”, today I’m sharing a recipe for Roast Delicata Squash Rings that will appear in my next book, Lighten Up, Y’all: 150 COMFORT FOOD RECIPES FOR HEART AND SOUL. I turned in my proposal just this week! In it I will lighten America’s favorite Southern recipes to make them a better choice for good health, while keeping the traditional flavors intact.

Roast Delicata Squash Rings
Serves 2

These tasty treats are beyond delicious. I could eat them every night. The seeds crisp up for a perfectly nutty savory crunch.

1 Delicata squash
1 teaspoon canola oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 400° F. Line a baking sheet with a nonstick silicone baking sheet. Using a chef’s knife, very thinly slice the squash, seeds and all, and place on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle over or brush with oil. ( I actually keep my canola oil in a spray bottle and 3 squirts is one teaspoon.) Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to the oven and bake until the rings are tender and slightly charred, about 45 minutes. Serve warm.

Out and About
I’ll be at Thyme in Starkville, Mississippi on Sunday 10/21 from 12:30 to 2:30 for a Reception and Book-Signing. Also, on Sunday 11/18 I’ll be in Evans, Ga with a Tailgating Demo and Book-Signing. It’s free and open to the public. You can sign up for that event here.

PS. Please take a moment and like me on Facebook or follow on Twitter. And, if you send your information to me, I’ll do the same!

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Copyright © 2012 Virginia Willis Culinary Productions, LLC.

Paris + Texas: Fall Recipes & Change is Good Friday, Oct 5 2012 

Fall Produce

While there’s absolutely nothing like a summer vine-ripe tomato or fresh sweet corn, have you ever considered that perhaps they wouldn’t be so special if we had them all the time? You know absence makes the heart grow fonder. Could you overload on summer produce? I’m not so sure, but I do love the transition to fall produce. It’s like a whole new playground! Pumpkins and winter squash, sweet potatoes, kale, collard, and mustard greens speak my language. I bought a rutabaga yesterday and simply cannot wait to cook it and make a comforting, savory mash.

Summer produce needs little or no cooking. The corn I enjoyed in Massachusetts this summer was so fresh and good it basically just needed a quick dip in boiling water. Fall produce means new cooking techniques like roasting and braising. Fall produce means long slow cooking. Fall produce means new flavors and textures. Fall produce means doing something different.

Change is Good

Doing something different in the kitchen can be good. Don’t you get tired of the same old-same old? But, regardless how small, change can be scary. People have expectations. Big changes create ripples and effect other people’s lives.One of the food folks I follow is Cowgirl Chef Ellise Pierce. She’s done what so many cooks dream to do — pull up lock, stock, and barrel and move to France. She made a big life change. Moving is a big break – especially when it’s far away from home. I know a little about being a displaced Southerner in France — and loving it and hating it at the same time. Being homesick hurts. Ellise and I have never met, but I think we’re kindred spirits. She has a wonderful new book out called Cowgirl Chef and I am just as proud of her as I can be and so happy for her. I know a little about blending Southern and French cooking; she’s married French and Texas! It’s Texas Cooking with a French accent – Paris, Texas in a whole new way!

She says that Cowgirl Chef is “about cooking with abandon, with a sense of adventure. Of not being afraid to try something new. Or something old in a new way.”

Don’t you love that? We all need a swift kick in the pants sometimes to change things up. Change is good. It’s good to overcome fear and not be afraid. Here’s a big welcome to fall. I love her new book and hope you do, too. We’re mixing things up. Kale is more often cooked so I am sharing a raw kale recipe. Winter squash is usually prepared as a side and she’s sharing a delicious recipe for a roast squash salad. Enjoy your weekend and your newfound sense of adventure.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Virginia’s Smoky Spicy Kale
Serves 4 to 6

You simply won’t believe your mouth when you taste these greens. They smell like bacon, and taste a lot like bacon, but there is no bacon. The flavor comes from smoked salt. The smoke permeates the salt crystals, infusing them with a rich, distinct smoked taste, and transforms their color from a light toasty brown to deep amber. I use it most often in Southern-style vegetables (and sell a pecan smoked salt in My Southern Pantry product line) to replicate that smoky taste evocative of hog jowl or bacon without the fat.

8 ounces young tender kale, washed, dried, stems removed and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon smoked salt, to taste

Place the kale in a medium bowl. Pour over oil, lemon juice, honey, red pepper flakes, and salt. Toss to combine. Let sit for about 20 minutes. That’s it!! Serve at room temperature.

Cowgirl Chef’s Roasted Butternut Squash, Spinach, and Bacon Salad
Makes 2 dinner-size or 4 first-course salads

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch/2.5 cm cubes
olive oil
sea salt and pepper
2 big handfuls (about 5 ounces/140 grams) of baby spinach
4 slices of cooked bacon, crumbled
Apple Cider Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
about 2 ounces/55 grams of fresh goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat your broiler.Put the squash pieces on a foil-lined cookie sheet, and drizzle them with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and toss with your hands and make sure they’re evenly coated. Slide the cookie sheet into the oven for about 15 minutes, checking and turning the pan around if necessary. When the edges of the squash turn brown, they’re done.

Assemble your salad while the squash is still warm. Just get out a big salad bowl, and add your spinach, still-warm squash pieces, and bacon bits. Add some of the vinaigrette on top and toss (you may not need all of the vinaigrette). Crumble the goat cheese on top and serve right away.

Swap It: Instead of butternut squash, roast some pumpkin or acorn squash, or even sweet potato.

Apple Cider Vinaigrette
Makes ¾ cup/180 ml

1 shallot, finely chopped
¼ cup/60 ml of apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon of grainy Dijon mustard
sea salt and pepper
½ cup/120 ml of grapeseed oil

In an old jam jar, add your minced shallot, apple cider vinegar, and grainy mustard along with a pinch of sea salt and pepper. Give it a shake and let this let rest for 10 minutes. Add the grapeseed oil, shake again, and taste for seasonings. You can store your vinaigrette in the fridge for a few days.

Recipe reprinted with permission from COWGIRL CHEF © 2012 by Ellise Pierce, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.

Kale pic by Virginia

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Copyright © 2012 Virginia Willis Culinary Productions, LLC.

Chill Out: Summer Small Plates Thursday, Aug 2 2012 

Whew. Last week was a blur in NYC. I had a great time hosting Cooking Today for Martha Stewart Radio interspersed with various meetings and eatings. The meetings went great and the eatings were delicious. Stay tuned for more exciting events this fall!

Dining was mostly low key, but a couple of the highlights included lunch at Hunan Kitchen in Flushing, Queens. I’d read about it in Andrew Zimmern’s article in Sky Magazine. The Farmer’s Style Tofu was phenomenal and the Cumin Ribs were on fire.

This food was H.O.T.

My favorite two other meals were lunch at A Voce and dinner at Buvette. Really, really fine food by coincidentally, two female chefs, Missy Robbins and Jody Williams. Both chefs used great ingredients and the dishes were well-executed. What more could you want in a meal?

It was hot as blue blazes for a few days. I had forgotten the potent aromatic combination of subway and summer and the hot gust of wind that blows gale-like through the tunnel as the train is pulling into the station, like the breath of Satan. Before any New Yorkers get overly excited at my criticism, I loved living in NYC and still love to visit. There’s really no other place like it in the whole entire world.

One night, we went to see End of the Rainbow on Broadway. It was a breath-taking, amazing performance by Tracie Bennett. She absolutely becomes Judy Garland. (They’ve just announced it’s closing, so if you are able to go, I highly recommend it.) I knew we’d get home late from the theater, so I made a few cold salads that morning to enjoy with rotisserie chicken. At the peak of summer, when its so fiery hot, I prefer to eat smaller plates of room temperature or cold dishes.

This is a quick post, I’m on deadline for a few projects, but these refreshing summer small plates are so tasty I wanted to share. Let me know what you think!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

VA

Summer Squash Slaw
Serves 4 to 6

Although the end result will taste the same, the vegetables are much prettier sliced into julienne matchsticks on a mandoline instead of grated on a box grater or in a food processor.

3 small zucchini
3 small yellow squash
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Finely grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ cup pure olive oil
¼ cup chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, tarragon, and basil

Using a grater or a mandoline, run the squash on the tool to slice, cutting away the colorful part of the vegetables into the white flesh. Stop when you approach the seeds and rotate the squash. In the end, you’ll wind up with the core of seeds to discard, compost, or save for another use. (Cooked they are fine, but I don’t care for them in this salad.) Combine the zucchini and yellow squashes in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon zest and juice, shallots, and mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until creamy and emulsified. Add the herbs. Just before serving, pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss to coat. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately on chilled plates.

Cauliflower Salad
Serves 4 to 6

This unusual cauliflower is purple! If you can’t find it at your local farmer’s market of course you can use the more traditional white variety.

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon freshly chopped mint
Pinch cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, or piment d’espelette, optional
Freshly ground black pepper

Line two plates with paper towels. Prepare an ice-water bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water. Set both aside. In a steamer basket, cover and steam the florets for 8 to 10 minutes for tender-crisp. Or microwave, covered, with 1/4 cup salted water for 2 to 4 minutes for tender-crisp or 3 to 5 minutes for tender. (One 2-pound head of cauliflower yields about 8 cups bite-size florets.) Shock cooked florets in ice water. Remove to the paper-towel lined plate and pat dry. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add rice wine vinegar, soy saucec, and herbs. Toss to coat. Taste and adjust for seasoning with freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately on chilled plates.

Farro Salad
Serves 4 to 6

2 cups pearled farro
1/2 cup currants
Juice of 1 lemon, more if needed
2 tablespoons olive oil, more if needed
1/4 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, tarragon, and basil
2 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled sheep’s milk feta
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add farro and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain well in a fine mesh sieve and rinse under cold running water. Shake to remove excess water and transfer to a medium bowl. Add currants, lemon juice, olive oil, herbs, and scallions. Stir to combine. Once combined, then fold in the feta. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately on chilled plates.

PS You can really help me out if you like these recipes by subscribing to this blog (see the top left corner of the page) and “Like” me on Facebook. Tis the way of the world. I promise I don’t sell names, lists, or information. Thanks!

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Wild about Vegetables! Wednesday, Jul 25 2012 

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I’m a meat eater. I love seafood, poultry, goat, lamb, pork, and beef. I enjoy wild game and will pretty much try anything once. I’m even working on a book proposal about my friend Will Harris, a 4th generation cattle farmer. I got a kick out of this sticker I saw last week on a cooler of “Absolutely Local Beef” near Amherst, Massachusetts.

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However, especially in the summer, I’m wild about vegetables. For those of you that have been reading my blog you know we’ve got a garden. We have been harvesting cucumbers, squash, arugula, chard, and kale. The cucumbers have been fresh and crisp; the squash, creamy rich and aggressively vegetal at the same time. Wasabi arugula is an eye-opening green that gives our salads serious zip. (The yankee okra has been delicate, vibrant — and infrequent, but more about that later.) I admit I love the colors of the rainbow chard more than the green itself. Aahh, but the kale? I adore the kale.

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One of the cookbooks I’ve been reaching for to gain inspiration is Wild About Greens by my friend and colleague Nava Atlas. Now, Nava is a vegan culinary authority who fully subscribes to a non-animal lifestyle – no meat, no animal products, no honey, no wool, no leather. At first glance you might wonder if she and I, the Southern-born and bred, French-trained, meat-eating, Italian-loafer loving chef would have anything in common.

We do. We most certainly do. We both like good food. My ingredient list may be more diverse than her plant based one, but I fully respect her beliefs and her food is good! Her recipe for Garlicky Greens and mine for Chilled Kale Salad were separated at birth. Please make sure to check out her book. Just like the subject of her book, it’s good and good for you!

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I’m hosting Martha Stewart Radio this week! Today, Wednesday, July 25 is all about Preserving. I’ll be talking to canning expert Sherri Brooks Vinton, author of Put Em Up! We’ll explore ways to help you put up some great summer fruits and vegetables.
I am also thrilled to be “chilling out” with NY Times best-selling author Mark Kurlansky, who has written a biography on the inventor of modern frozen foods, Clarence Birdseye.

Please call in with your questions! You can also follow or ask questions on twitter at @MarthaRadio and use the hashtag #CookingToday. It’s Martha Stewart Living Radio, channel SiriusXM 110. If you would like to listen in but do not have Sirius, you can sign up for a FREE 7 day trial!

Below are a couple of greens recipes I hope you are wild about!

Bon Appetit, Y’all!
VA

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Nava’s Very Green Avocado-Tahini Dip
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Kind of a marriage of guacamole and hummus, and infused with a good amount of leafy greens, this rich dip makes its own unique statement. Serve with tortilla chips, fresh pita, pita chips, raw veggies, or a combination.

3 to 4 ounces baby spinach or arugula, or a combination
1 large, ripe avocado, peeled and diced
1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste)
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, cilantro, or dill
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Rinse the greens and place in a large skillet or saucepan. With just the water clinging to the leaves, cook until just wilted down. Remove from the heat.

Place all the ingredients in the container of a food processor, and process until smooth. Add 1/4 water, as needed, to achieve a medium-thick consistency. Transfer to a serving bowl. Keep covered until ready to serve.

Serve at once as suggested in the headnote. Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two days.

Recipe from Wild About Greens by Nava Atlas (Sterling, 2012), reprinted by permission

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Virginia’s Chilled Kale & Garlic Salad
Serves 4-6

The best way to clean greens is to fill a clean sink with cold water, add the greens, and swish them around. The dirt will fall to the bottom of the sink. Lift the greens out, drain the sink, and repeat until the water is clear and the greens are free of dirt and grit.

1- 2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
3 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium bunch kale (about 11/2 pounds), cleaned, tough stems removed and discarded,
and leaves very thinly sliced in chiffonade
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper 

In a skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the slightly damp ribbons of greens; season with salt and pepper. Toss once or twice, then add the garlic. (This is where Nava and I slightly differ, but the results are quite similar. I add mine after the greens to buffer the garlic from possibly burning) Cook until the greens are bright green and slightly wilted, 3 to 4 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. You can serve warm or for salad, transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until well-chilled. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

Kale Photo credit: Virginia Willis
Dip Photo credit: Susan Voisin

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

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